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Headlines   2004 Review Index   May 26, 2004
Suspended Animation

Michael Vance

Mark Allen

Michael Vance Books

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Ape

    I had never heard of Ted Jouflas, until I read his comic work entitled Ape. I have to say, in all honesty, I'm not impressed.

    Ape is political satire; it is political satire that presents the leaders of the political right to be completely evil, and those who believe them to be duped simpletons.

    The obvious problem with this, in my opinion, is that neither side of the political spectrum, left or right, has cornered the market on evil. Those who present such a view, regardless of their political association, come off as negative, bitter individuals who have closed their ears and minds to the smallest possibility of valid arguments from the "other side." 

    Who knows?  Perhaps this is why Ape doesn't seem to have made much of a splash (or even a ripple) in the comics market because people don't like to be beaten over the head with negativity.

    Of course, it could also be the poetic (to be kind) narrative. There's really no story, here. Just rhyming diatribe.

    Ape is rendered, supposedly, in the style of old monster movies. Ok, I'll buy that. The book does, indeed, present images of monstrous political figures, and evil corporate executives, trampling, vomiting and defecating on the public...wait a minute...I don't remember ever seeing THAT in the old late-night horror flicks. Thank goodness.

    The art appears to have been produced in chalk, and is highly stylized, sometimes showing great detail, and then, near-amateurish simplicity. Considering the content, my guess is that the artwork would make it even more difficult for the average reader to slog through Ape.

    Comics are a great venue for expressing opinions, I just happen to believe that a good story communicates a point of view better than, well, this.

    Ape is suggested for older readers, due to some profanity and disturbing imagery. Find it at your local comic shop, online retailers and auctions, or www.fantagraphics.com. Ape, published by Fantagraphics Books, Inc., 32 pages, oversized format, $4.95.

    Review by Mark Allen

 
Van Helsing's Night Off

    The Monster of Frankenstein. The Mummy. Dracula. Van Helsing. The Wolfman. All are characters with which most anyone would be familiar, and comics fans intimately so. Chances are, however, that you have never seen them as Nicolas Mahler presents them in his new comic, Van Helsing's Night Off.

    Imagine, if you will, a famous vampire killer who struggles with keeping his hat on while hammering stakes. Or a piecemeal monster whose large feet make it difficult to get around without looking like a buffoon. Or an invisible man who keeps ordering drinks, only to see them served to the patron sitting next to him. Or a vampire who, following his trip to the local bar, is too baked to find his coffin, in the crowded cemetery. This is some of the situational humor that can be found in Mahler's book. As you may have guessed, these are not your father's horror characters. But, Mahler hits a home run where putting a new twist on old characters is concerned. Additionally, he does so with no word balloons, a venture which is rarely pulled off well in comics, but Mahler does a better job than many.

    On the negative side, Mahler's art style is simple, almost crude. Chances are the reader will have to stare at a few of the strips for a while to interpret the action; an undesirable prospect, at best, annoying at worst. It's unknown by this reviewer whether or not Mahler is able to employ a more translatable style, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Overall, Van Helsing's Night Off is probably like nothing you've seen before, and, in a medium overrun with cookie-cutter styles and story material, that's a good thing, and well worth checking out.

    Van Helsing's Night Off is suggested for older readers, due to some mature subject matter. Find it at comic shops, book stores, online auctions or comic conventions. Van Helsing's Night Off, published by Top Shelf Productions, Inc., 112 pages, $12.95.

    Review by Mark Allen

 
Mabel Normand

    In 1920, The Kinema Comic [book] was published  each Wednesday in London, and featured a silent movie comedian like Fatty Arbuckle, Snub Pollard or Mabel Normand.

    Mabel who?

    Mabel was the then "queen of comedy" and the 'female [Charlie] Chaplin". She also modeled for artist James Montgomery Flagg and became one of artist Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girls".

    If you are scratching your head and have little or no interest in history, this review may regrettably hold no interest for you. It is your loss.

    First published in 1921, Mabel Normand has been republished with a new cover by artist Kim Deitch. Inside are single-page slapstick adventures that will remind today's readers of a Sunday comic strip with some differences.

    Comic strips were relatively new in the 1920s, and still experimenting with the techniques that we take for granted today. Mabel's strip seems clumsy because a caption on the bottom of each panel explains what you've just read in the art and dialog above it. It takes a moment or two to train yourself to read the caption first.

    In addition, the dominant slapstick style of humor of Mabel's day is out of favor now. Even her self-respect, innocence, optimism, and gentleness seem out-dated in today's sex-drenched, hedonistic culture of gross disrespect for, well, everything.

    Mabel Normand is also different because of its art. If you like artist Harry Peter's work on the first run of the Wonder Woman comic book, you'll enjoy the similar work of this uncredited, 'big-foot' artist. His style is simple and uncluttered, visually imaginative, energetic and full of the fashions, appliances, buildings and culture of the 1920s. Hurrah!!

    But if you are uninterested in excellent art, the early history and style of silent movies and comic strips, and a style that embraces human dignity, you'll want to pass on this delightful bite of comics history.

    Mabel Normand/$4.95 & 30 pgs. from Fantagraphics/writer and artist unknown/available at comics shops and at www.fantagraphics.com.

    Review by Michael Vance

 
Dick Tracy: The Collins Files

    Near the end of Chester Gould's career, the creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip began to turn his master-piece over to his art assistant, Rick Fletcher, and novelist Max Allan Collins. The Collins Files is the first in a series that will collect strips originally published between 1978 and 1989.

    Collins, who was already known for his Ms. Tree series of crime comic books and his mystery novels, would also write the graphic novel and movie, Road to Perdition. Fletcher passed away during Collins' tenure.

    Dick Tracy had long before been stripped of its gritty violence, and even bizarre villains like The Mole, Pruneface and Haf-and-Haf had been visually softened over the years. Collins eventually reintroduced many of the elements that had made the strip famous, and Haf-and-Haf, the children of criminals Flattop and The Brow and Big Boy are cast members in this collection.

    Strips had also been reduced in size in newspapers since Tracy's 1931 debut. The simplified art Gould developed for the cast was further simplified by Fletcher and weakens the original impact of the strip. Although more than competent, Fletcher's art seems two-dimensional and visual suspense is often missing.

    Despite these limitations, the original and powerful concept behind Dick Tracy, Fletcher's obvious talent as a cartoonist, and Collin's intricate, innovative, and entertaining plots, characterization and dialog, quickly involve a reader in the stylistic, semi-realistic world of Gould's cops and robbers.

    In particular, the last story in this volume featuring crime boss Big Boy and hitman The Iceman is suspenseful as well as entertaining. It will be interesting to see if Collins maintained this level of Film Noir tension during the rest of his time on the most popular police series in the history of strips.

    Dick Tracy: The Collins Files is highly recommended.

    Dick Tracy: The Collins Files #1/$17.95 and 163 pgs. from Checker Book/Art by Rick Fletcher; words by Max Allan Collins/available at www.checkerbpg.com and comics book stores.

    Review by Michael Vance

 

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